Stand-up paddleboarding—or, SUPing—might be the poster child for Hallmark family beach vacations everywhere. (Aka, wholesome and nice, but not altogether thrilling.) But the truth is: this sport can be seriously adventuresome.
From catching waves to catching fish, the variety of activities you can do from a stand-up paddleboard is pretty extensive. And the variety of waterways you can hit—from flat water lakes to whitewater rivers—is seriously expansive.
In short, SUPing isn’t just a way to keep the kids entertained in Destin. It’s a way to unlock a whole new ecosystem of exploration. It’s an adventure vessel—and a vessel for adventure. And one of the best ways to maximize the dynamism (and sheer fun) of a stand-up paddleboard is with an overnight SUP camping excursion.
Here, we’re offering insider tips for overnight SUP camping trips, plus some of the best places to do it.
For overnight long-distance paddle trips, or “journey trips” as they’re sometimes called, the basic gist is this: You seek out a body of water—a lake, a coastal area, or better yet, a river, as rivers very naturally lend you a point A to point B trajectory. You set up a shuttle system and determine your daily mileage and predetermined campsites. Then you load up all your gear on your board (tent, sleeping bag, cookware & food), and then quite literally just go with the flow.
It’s basically backpacking. But on water instead of on trail. Which is a pretty sweet change of pace terrain, if you ask us.
SUP Camping: Where to Go
In case you needed a reminder, the US is positively loaded with world-class waterways. From the bays and bayous of the Gulf to the lakes and languid rivers of the Pacific Northwest, this country is practically bursting at the seams with world-class water recreation.
Here are a few of our favorites for an overnight or multi-day SUP trip.
Find serenity on the Allegheny Rivers at one of the few undeveloped, forested islands open to the public on this river. Hiking and mushrooming are popular here! Sycamore Island is owned by the Allegheny Land Trust and a fun, but accessible location for a quick weekend adventure. Best part, you can launch right from the boat ramp at the 3ROC Outpost and rent a SUP for your friend!
Visit the Clarion River and enjoy the riffles from Arroyo Bridge to Irwin Run. Enjoy the tunnel-like feeling of the narrow river valley, surrounded on both sides by relatively steep hills. This river is a great one for birding, you may spot osprey, dugs, ealges, warblers and orioles.
Twenty-seven primitive, numbered campsites are dotted along the Clarion Wild and Scenic River from Irwin Run up to and along Millstone Creek. Campsites can be reached via River Road and FR 132. In this area, dispersed camping is only allowed at the numbered sites. You will find 18 campsites along the Clarion River and nine campsites along Millstone Creek.
What to Bring SUP Camping
Once you’ve picked a location, it’s time to start packing. When you’re packing for an overnight SUP camping trip, it’s important to remember that you’ll be carrying all your gear with you on your board, so pack light! Here’s a list of essential items you’ll need for your trip:
A Stand-Up Paddleboard
First, the obvious. If you’re going on a SUP trip, you’re gonna need a SUP. In terms of which SUP you get, the world is your oyster. There are dozens of excellent brands out there, and we believe in Red Paddles. The key is to find a board that matches your size (height + weight) as well as your activity of choice (in this case, a touring SUP).
The general rule of thumb is that you’ll want a longer board if you’re taller and a shorter one if you’re shorter. The reason is because taller people have higher centers of gravity than shorter people. So, a taller person will find it more difficult to maintain balance on a shorter board. Alternatively, a shorter person will struggle to control a longer board.
Just like with backpacking, your sleep system is going to make or break the SUP camping experience. The triple threat trifecta of what you need is a tent, a sleeping bag, and a sleeping pad. Of course, there are some variations you can make within these categories. A tarp or bivy or hammock can replace a tent. A down quilt can replace a sleeping bag. The sleeping pad can be either foam or inflatable. It’s all about finding what works for you. Our advice if you’re just starting out? Go with the tried and true: tent, bag, inflatable pad.
We all know the best part of any camping trip isn’t nature or even the smell of a campfire. It’s the food. Something about eating in the woods just makes everything taste better. Twenty-five-cent ramen noodle packets become Michelin-starred masterpieces. Beef jerky becomes filet mignon. Couscous becomes the food so nice they named it twice (sorry, we had to). For a great camp cookware setup, you need five essential items: a camp stove, a fuel canister, a lighter, a titanium pot, and ye olde faithful spork. Insider tip: the MSR PocketRocket or Windburner is a ridiculously convenient and easy to use stove. In terms of food, instant mashed potatoes, mac & cheese, and cold cut salami make for one weird-on-paper yet damn-delicious backcountry meal.
There’s not much worse than a sopping wet sleeping bag or apparel you can wring out like a rag. (Maybe getting caught in outerspace like Sandra Bullock in Gravity tops a wet sleeping bag. But that’s pretty much it.) To keep your gear dry, you’ll need waterproof bags that go the distance. For that and more, our Ultra-Sil drybags are ready to go anywhere water protection is paramount.
Paddling apparel, of course, depends on where you’re going. If you’re paddling in warm water, opt for a bathing suit and long sleeve shirt (for sun protection). Our selection of Sunday Afternoons hats is also a pretty killer option for sun protection. In colder waters, go for a wetsuit. For camp, only pack synthetic or merino wool apparel. Leave the cotton at home. And pack layers. For your upper half, a good package would look something like this: a merino wool tee, a lightweight wool pullover, a synthetic down pullover, and a windbreaker. For your bottom, it’s all about that long john’s life. And socks. Bring extra socks! You can never have enough socks.
Miscellaneous Gadgets & Gear
Various other gear you may want to include is a headlamp with extra batteries, a multi-tool or a knife, and pretty much anything else from the Ten Essentials List—a compilation of important safety items every hiker (or paddler!) should consider carrying into the backcountry.
All in all, if you’re looking to ramp up your stand up paddle boarding game, SUP camping is one of the best and most rewarding ways to do it. We’ll see you out there.